Business events: avoiding common disasters


Running events is a great way for SMEs to meet and connect with customers. Sure, social media is a cool way to interact with your audience and spruik your business, but sometimes you need to log out of Facebook and have actual human interactions.

Even in a tech-heavy age where smartphones are conveniently ubiquitous, nothing beats pressing the flesh and growing your network. Whether you’re a large local firm or a small online-only company, events can help to make or break your business.

However, no matter how much experience you have in this field, or how well prepared you are, there will always be the odd hairy moment in the unpredictable world of event planning.

Spinning plates and dealing with the unexpected is a matter of course with events — but it’s also what makes them exciting. While you can’t always prevent problems, the key is how you deal with them when they do occur.

Here are 10 common event issues and how to tackle them:

1. There’s a last minute venue problem

It’s the day before your event and you get a call from your venue to say it’s been flooded – you’ll have to hold your event somewhere else. You get on the phone for a frenzied ring-round of alternate venues and manage to secure somewhere, but it’s on the other side of town.

How to address the problem: This is a great example of when having online ticketing for your event (even free events) comes in handy. Rather than desperately trying to put out messages and hope enough attendees see it in time, having a list of registered attendees will allow you to email everyone personally at the touch of a button.

2. There’s a major transport disruption

Hot weather, torrential downpours, network failures, highway accidents — there are so many factors that can derail the best laid transportation plans.

How to address the problem: If a major delay strikes on the morning of your event, there’s little you can do about it except hope it gets remedied quickly and consider rescheduling your best content for later in the day to avoid disappointment. It’s also a good idea to keep your attendees informed about alternative ways to get to your venue via email or social media.

3. No one shows up

This must be the number one fear of all event organisers. You’ve spent forever planning, got some great speakers and exhibitors on board and even persuaded a sponsor to support your event – that last thing you want is empty space!

How to address the problem: If you haven’t done sufficient marketing, it’s a real possibility. It’s also especially risky with events that are free-to-attend – if guests haven’t paid for a ticket and it’s raining they might prefer to simply stay at home. Be sure to mitigate the risk of a sea of empty seats by monitoring your real-time ticket sales, and launching a last-minute promotion if needed (or at the very least switching to a smaller event space if numbers aren’t looking good!). For free events, consider adding up to 30-50% additional ‘fat’ to the guest list than your capacity to allow for no-shows.

4. Too many people show up

This is less awkward than nine people rattling around in a huge auditorium, but it’s still stressful when your event turns out to be more popular than you’d ever anticipated. You’ve got attendees stuffed into sessions like sardines, and queues for the cloakrooms and toilets, which tail round the block.

How to address the problem: Similar to not having enough guests, if you are accepting event registrations and actively monitoring your signups, you should have enough time to move to a bigger venue to cope with demand. You can also limit tickets and set up a waitlist so people know that you’re expecting a big crowd. If it’s a free event and you have a limited capacity in your venue, employee door staff with counters have a queue outside and advertise a ‘first in best dressed’ policy.

5. A speaker drops out

You’re still patting yourself on the back for securing a top-name VIP speaker when word comes in they can’t make it. Something’s come up, which is far more important and of course you understand, right? Except that you’ve been shouting about this speaker’s keynote from the rooftops and you know people will be disappointed. How do you dress up your last-minute replacement so he/she doesn’t get booed off stage? What if people ask for their money back?

How to address the problem: Communicate to your attendees, don’t leave them in the dark and hope they won’t mind once they arrive. It’s also a good idea to have a refunds policy in place so that you’re prepared to cope with disappointed attendees. If you’re given enough notice, you could consider asking for a pre-recording of the keynote to screen at your event alongside your new speaker.

6. A speaker goes rogue

“What did he just say?!” Your speaker has gone off-topic, sprung a surprise slide, sworn or uttered some otherwise offensive term or viewpoint. You can see the shock on people’s faces and the journalists scribbling in their notebooks.

How to address the problen: You have two options – decide whether you let them carry on, or cut the mic and butt in with an apology. You know your event is going to get some attention for this, but probably not in a good way. Having a handle on your event data and audience demographics is also a good way to mitigate this issue. If you can supply your speaker with a good understanding of who they are presenting to and why they’re attending, there’s less chance they’ll say something that could offend that group.

7. The AV/laptop won’t work

This is one of the most common panic-inducing occurrences for event managers. When the ‘gremlins’ get inside the tech it can cause no end of problems. At best, your event looks badly organised as you faff about for 10-minutes trying to get it all up and running, and at worst, the session is near on ruined as the speaker shouts to be heard and desperately tries to recall the details of charts and graphs from the missing visuals.

How to address the problem: Like any good performance, rehearsal is key! Venue walk-throughs with plenty of time to tackle last minute issues and assess the quality of things like AV and lighting will help you be prepared. It’s a good idea to keep plenty of connectors and adapters for both Mac and PC in your event toolkit (a good extension cord is another must!). Ideally, if you have presentations, they should all be sent to your prior to the event to run off a single (tried, tested and charged) laptop.

8. A sponsor complains

You were thrilled to get a sponsor on board for your event, but now they want their pound of flesh. They’re not happy with the turnout, they’re disappointed with the calibre of attendees, they thought they’d have longer on stage to talk about their company, their logo is not big enough, they didn’t realise company x would be present… there are many ways a sponsor can be let down by your event.

How to address the problem: Dealing with a disgruntled sponsor while in the midst of your event is as welcome as a hole in the head, but you must do your best to placate and salvage the relationship. Managing expectations from the start is always the best option, as is having an event agreement in place when negotiating sponsorship deals. If you both have a clear understanding of what is taking place on the day and a written agreement of things like sponsorship placement and speeches, you reduce the risk of grumpy sponsors. If all else fails, consider ways you can make it up to them via a post-event offer in your email communications so they still feel they’re getting value.

9. It’s raining at your outdoor event

Ah, the weather. Melbourne organisers especially can relate to this one. Rain should always be expected, but you can’t exactly hold a summer BBQ party in a conference room!

How to address the problem: Have a wet-weather plan and communicate this to attendees from the start. If an indoor contingency is available, let people know so they still show up. If it’s outside or nothing, tell people where they can go to find event updates on cancellations and what to do in the event of bad weather. Will they be eligible for a refund, or will you reschedule for another day? Deciding upfront will save headaches down the track.

10. Half your volunteers don’t show up

It’s all hands on deck and you’ve got a big group of enthusiastic volunteers lined up to help on your big day…until that is, half of them decide not to show up!

How to address the problem: Even if you’re offering great perks like free entry to the hottest sold out event, the fact is that volunteers aren’t obligated to show up and can’t be fired for their insubordination! Like attendees for free events, it’s a good idea to allow for more people than you need on the day. Positions that can’t be left vacant should be filled by paid staff (try a platform like Sidekicker if you need last-minute event staff) to ensure that you’re not flying solo. It’s also a good idea to ask vendors and event partners how many staff will be attending on the day to ensure you’re not needing to spare tight resources for others who came unprepared.


About the author

Phil Silverstone is the ANZ General Manager of Eventbrite, a global event technology platform. In his role Phil is responsible for the growth of the business in Australia and the region. Prior to Eventbrite, Phil had a successful global career in financial services, with over a decade in senior roles with GE, and prior experience in top tier investment banks.